Shannon Manders Correspondent
The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is building an online repository of information products for importers and exporters looking to access African markets or expand existing operations across the continent.
The bank’s ambition for the Trade Information Portal (TIP) is for it to evolve into the “single authoritative reference point” for all trade and investment-related information in the African context, Lizanne Case, senior manager of trade information services at Afreximbank, tells GTR.
She explains that the TIP will provide information around how current supply chains are oriented in Africa at the company, sector, market, price and trade flow levels. It will also offer professional services support.
As such, she says, the TIP will be a tool to connect users looking to understand African markets; equip them with the necessary information to facilitate transactions; provide on-the-ground, direct consultancy services support to entities; and also deliver an online marketplace for buyers and sellers to connect.
“Improving access to market information will directly stimulate intra-African trade and, given that the TIP will also facilitate business-to-business exchanges, it will ultimately, we believe, facilitate intra-regional trade and investment deals,” Case says.
In terms of a timeline for development of the portal, Case explains that it’s still “early days”, but that the bank is hoping to move quickly once it brings onboard its development partner.
“Definitive timelines will also only be confirmed as part of the contracting,” she says.
GTR has learnt that Coriolis Technologies has been contracted as the data aggregator on the project.
Coriolis Technologies provides data and analytics as a service for trade professionals. Apart from aggregating data around global trade and trade finance flows, it also uses machine learning technology to create unique data analytics for its clients, which include banks, investors and policymakers.
Speaking to GTR, Harding describes the long-term goal of the TIP as a “cross between a Facebook, a GoCompare and a Starling Bank for trade finance in Africa”.
“To start with, the goal is very simply, to provide African exporters with the information and data they need to be able to trade within Africa,” she says.
Harding explains that TIP users will be able to log in, classify themselves according to characteristics such as sector, size and turnover, and then identify their trade history, needs, partners, markets, characteristics and so on, so that companies using the portal can be matched with their peers up and down the relevant supply chains.
She adds: “The data that we collect and collate will belong to the data lake, which will build the TIP for Afreximbank. Our role is to do that data collection exercise and to provide the trade insight and analytics behind that data.”
Access to trade finance will also be part of the portal’s solution in the future, Harding says.
“We will bring together companies and service providers and integrating all of that onto a platform where the user can then enter its trade finance needs, and the algorithms behind the platform will say ‘based on this information, you need working capital or a letter of credit or supply chain finance’, and here are some of the best partners to speak to. That’s the ‘challenger bank’ element of it.”
Closing the trade information gap
The portal was first mentioned to GTR by Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah in an exclusive interview last year.
“Afreximbank is building a trade information portal for African businesses. The platform will vend information, some of which will be free. It will also offer bespoke advisory services such as market entry studies,” Oramah said.
“At the same time, the African Union is also working on what it calls the ‘trade observatory’, with the support of the International Trade Commission (ITC). The plan is to see how to merge the two initiatives because we want to make sure that the information is available.”
Oramah has long purported that the lack of trade information is one of the biggest problems facing intra-Africa trade today.
“The average African businessman who wants to do international trade does not view another African country as a market,” he told GTR last year.
“For example, Kenya today imports certain kinds of leather from outside Africa, which can be sourced in Burundi. Egypt imports meat from outside of Africa — but Chad produces a lot of that kind of meat. There are several such examples.”
While intra-African trade rose to 16 percent in 2018 from 5 percent in 1980, it remains low compared to intra-regional trade in Europe and Asia. Afreximbank has been working on a number of initiatives to encourage more trade within the continent.
In July last year, it launched its new digital customer due diligence (CDD) platform, called Mansa, which will be available for use by the end of the year.
Mansa seeks to provide a single source of primary data required for financial institutions (FIs) to conduct CDD and know your customer (KYC) checks on counter parties in Africa. It is expected to make it easier and more cost-effective for FIs to onboard African banks and businesses, large and small.
Afreximbank has also been working on its Pan-African Payment and Settlement System, the first continent-wide digital payment system to facilitate payments for goods and services in local currencies, which was formally launched last month. — GTR.